The Americas Cup in
New Zealand 2003
was lucky enough to have a life long dream fulfilled this year as I was invited
down to New Zealand this February to watch the America’s Cup yacht race. My wife
Sharon and I would be able to follow the racing on a friend of mine’s family
boat, so we could see the racing right up close. I had not seen my friend
Richard Manthel for nearly 10 years, so it was also a great excuse to head down
there and catch up with him, plus see a few other friends I had met during my
days as a ski bum in Aspen, Colorado.
Getting down there was simple
enough, but you had to part with a large number of green folding units to get a
seat. I had been calling the airlines for months to see if we could go using our
air-miles, but with no luck as every air mile seat was taken. Two weeks before
the racing started, one seat comes available with another one a few days later.
The final hurdle was that
Sharon had no vacation time at work, so I had to approach her boss on a bended
knee and managed to convince him what a great opportunity this was for her.
Luckily enough for us he agreed that it was a life time opportunity and let her
take the time off un-paid. We called to book the flights and luck was with us
again as another seat came available which meant we could fly down together. A
side bonus of the ride down was that we got to stay 2 days in Fiji going out and
a day on the way back. We are on, and Fiji is not exactly a tough place to wait
for an aircraft change.
The flight out to LA was
fine, but the ride to Fiji was one of the bumpiest flights I have ever been on.
You know it is rough when the air-hostess are getting sick and asking you to
pass a sick bag, as the guy next to you has used all the closest ones. We got
off that amusement park ride Air Fiji called a Boeing 747in Nadi, shaken but not
sickened and stayed at the Sheraton. Fiji was an awesome place with the water
warm and the people genuinely friendly.
Fiji is very different to the Caribbean
where I have often felt a little unwelcome as the locals can on occasions give
you the “%$#@ tourist” look. The locals in Fiji were actually interested in the
tourists and would even wave hi to the tour busses going through their villages.
We took full advantage of all the Sheraton’s water toys, even if the sails to go
with the Starboard were a little past their use by dates. Bula Fiji….
short hop from Fiji took us to Auckland, the main city in New Zealand, located
on the North Island and aptly named the city of sails. The Americas Cup and the
previous Louis Vuitton qualification races were all held out on the Hauraki
Gulf, which is a large stretch of water just out from the Auckland city harbor.
Auckland has undergone a
major transformation since I was down there last in 1992 and the economy was now
booming, so things were looking up. The city had even built a new tower down
town called the Sky Tower and it dominates the city profile.
They do some interesting
things at this tower, including a bungy jump off the top. This is something to
make your hair stand on end and unfortunately we did not get to have a go at it.
The little spec in the lower part of the picture is the bungy jumper.
The Sky Tower is seriously
high and winds are a problem for anyone jumping off the top, so to make the jump
possible, a pair of cables had to be run from the top of the tower to the
landing spot. The cables are tensioned up very taught and the jumper falls down
to earth with the two wires keeping them from being blown off into the Hauraki
Gulf by the wind.
tower also has a number of clear plastic floor panels fitted to the observation
deck and give any vertigo sufferer, like me, a bit of a thrill. You can walk on
these clear panels and have the elusion of having nothing stopping you from
falling 192m (630 feet) into the down town area...
These Kiwi’s do not mess
around, so when the wife has enough of you, off you go to the bottom, without
the use of the elevator.
The central harbor area of
Auckland used to be a dirty old series of fishing wharves, and the whole area
was nothing to write home about. When the America’s Cup was won by the Kiwi’s
for the first time in San Diego in 1992, the City used this as the catalyst to
clean up and transform the viaduct harbor area.
The American Express viaduct
harbor is now a trendy area of town and during the races, is graced by many a
Billionaire’s super yacht like Larry Ellison’s...
The newly renovated Viaduct
was first used in 1995, when the late Sir Peter Blake headed the Team New
Zealand syndicate defense of the cup.
the teams were based in boat “sheds” built along what is now know as syndicate
row. It is fun going into each of the team’s stores and just to buy their
souvenirs or in the case of the Alinghi shed, enjoy a much more interactive
had an elaborate display, including the Louis Vuitton Cup, a set of grinding
winches and a bucking bronco like fore deck, simulating the bow-mans job.
The idea is that you have to
take a rope from foot of the mast to the bow and clip it on with a carabineer.
All the while the deck is bouncing around and as you kneel down to clip the line
on, a hose sprays you with water.
Sharon was successful at
clipping the line and completing the return, I was thrown off multiple times,
never getting back to the mast base successfully.
The Races get underway
got into Auckland in mid-week and the sailing started that Saturday. There was a
massive fleet out to watch the races.
Unfortunately the racing was
very one sided, Alinghi taking the series 5-0, with Team New Zealand only
contesting 3 races.
Race one saw a massive
spectator fleet and it looked like you could walk from one side of the Hauraki
Gulf to the other without getting your feet wet. The opening race saw fresh
conditions and the huge number of spectator boats caused a large amount of chop.
The boats came off the line
battling a large chop from the spectator fleet and Team New Zealand seemed to
get into trouble right after the start. Rumor had it, that the two black boats
collided during the warm up to the races and the practice boat was cracked
almost in two, so was not seen on the water for around a week. The race boat
suffered some delaminating of the deck and to make matters worse, a sail bag
reportedly got stuck in the delaminated self bailing scupper.
The rough conditions saw a
lot of water coming over the side of Team New Zealand and the errant sail bag
reduced the self bailing ability of the boat. From the TV coverage, we saw a
crew member bailing the $ 30 million dollar boat, with a $ 1 dollar bucket used
for crew ablutions. The poor guy would bail a couple of gallons out only to see
50 gallons come right back on from the next wave, it was not going to be easy to
recover from that position, even though the black boat was keeping up with
extra weight of water on-board was estimated at 5 tons and loaded up the rig of
a boat already sailing at its max in the 25 knots breeze.
It was only a matter of time
before something broke and the first thing to let go was the very exotic new
boom that Team NZ was using. The boom had a much thinner tail to it, in an
effort to reduce weight, but the loads must have been enormous as the spar let
go in a dramatic way. The broken tail to the boom meant that Team New Zealand
could not apply full outhaul tension to their main sail and the sail profile
thickened up. This would be great for power, but the boat was over powered in
those conditions anyway, so the crew had to let some traveler off, in an effort
not to send the rig over the side.
Now the black boat was
starting to let Alinghi ever so slightly creep away as the crew frantically
dealt with the flood and the broken boom. Now that the boat is water ballasted
in a way the designers never intentioned and the main sail is developing much
more power than anticipated, something disastrous was very likely to happen. In
an effort to reduce windage, Team New Zealand designed the boat with only one
forestay and used this as the Jib luff tensioner as well. The massive pounding
of the boats coupled with the extra loads of the water on-board, took the jib
tack fitting way past its design loadings and so the head sail let go next. With
the boat taking on water, the boom broken and the head sail letting go, it
seemed prudent for Dean Baker to with draw from the race so as not to replicate
Stars and Stripes trip to the bottom of the ocean.
Race number 2 saw some
awesome racing and great fun to watch. While jockeying for position to watch the
racing, we found a great spot next to a super deluxe yacht from Pascagoula,
Mississippi. We originally thought the boat must have been repossessed from the
WorldCom Executive, Bernie Ebbers, as we could not think of a wealthy individual
from Mississippi. We later found out that the owner was the lead lawyer who got
a massive payout from the Tobacco litigation settlements. That boat just
happened to have Mr. America’s Cup himself, Dennis Conner on deck. As you can
see from his waste line, he must have become very partial to New Zealand pies
over the years he has been coming down south.
One urban legend that might
account for this state of girth is that New Zealanders consume more pies per
person than any other nation on earth and Dennis was helping out keeping up the
While waiting for race number
two to go off, our hosts, Neil and Dree Manthel ensured that we found a nice
spot in a quite bay and we cracked open some of the great New Zealand wines.
Quite a few of those legendary pies disappeared into the guests on-board, along
with enjoying the great weather and calm waters. We could get very close to the
racing boats as they were towed back and forth, waiting for the wind to fill in,
which added to the whole experience.
The racing started late on in
the day, after having to wait for the massive spectator fleet to move when the
wind shifted. The marshal boats were not very effective and the spectator fleet
only found out that it needed to move when the TV commentators mentioned it was
holding up the start. All the spectator boats seemed to have TV’s on-board and
everyone was anxious to see some sailing after waiting out on the gulf all day
for the breeze to fill in. A few minutes later all the boats had moved back and
Race 2 was on.
Alinghi came out of the start
nicely and took the first beat to windward by a 20 second margin. The second leg
saw Team New Zealand, catch a wind shift and came charging past the Swiss on the
down wind run to take a sizable lead at the bottom mark. The Hula works and
everything looked great for the black boat. We all cracked open some more of
that great New Zealand wine and looked forward to seeing the match all square at
1-1, with a humdinger of a series to follow.
The Hula (Hull Appendage) was
a very interesting innovation from Team New Zealand in an effort to gain a boat
speed advantage. The Hula is almost a second hull, fitted onto the stern of the
boat and allows Team New Zealand to have a greater water line length and volume
than the rules allow for just in the hull. The boat measuring in the America’s
Cup is obviously quite tight, so the Hula gets around the water line length rule
by not actually being part of the hull. The Hula is an appendage attached to the
boat like a rudder or keel fin and the rules allow for 20 percent of the volume
of the boat to be appendages. The Hula give the boat an extra foot of effective
water line. The engineering involved must have been quite tricky as there could
only be a 2 mm gap between the hull and the hula to reduce the drag penalty.
Plus the rules only permitted attaching the Hula on a 10 inch wide strip down
the middle of the hull, so that joint had to be mighty strong.
much hyped up Hula resulted in many Team New Zealand supporters wearing Hawaiian
shirts in support of the Hula’s gona do ya campaign. Some folks went even
further and built a Hula barge and drove it out to the race course.
The Hula barge was a pontoon
boat with a flat deck, covered in beach sand, palm trees, a tropical hut and
some bikini clad girls.
The Hula girls no longer
remained clad whenever the Team New Zealand boat was towed past the barge...
Back to Race # 2. New Zealand
held a sizable lead until close to the final windward beat and in my opinion,
this is where the race was lost. Dean Barker started to play it safe and seemed
to choke. Barker would immediately follow a Coutts tacking maneuver and not
extend his lead, wait for the wind to shift and then tack. Coutts masterfully
showed how to do this correctly in later races. Coutts would let the other boat
tack away and was confident enough to extend his lead on the opposite tack,
while he still had boat speed, only tacking during the next wind shift. This
tactic carries a slight risk of getting out of phase with the other boat, but
enables the lead boat to take advantage of getting the puffs first and extending
away from the chasing boat. On the upwind legs, the lead boat usually has the
advantage, in part due to the fact that they always see the wind first and the
advantage is reversed on the run down wind. Team NZ’s playing it safe, let
Alinghi close up the race, leaving a 20 second gap as they rounded the final
The end result of letting
Alinghi get this close, was that the Coutts / Butterworth combination had a
chance to work their magic as the door was still open. On the final run
downwind, Coutts jibed away, with Barker covering loosely. Alinghi caught the
pressure first on a number of occasions and closed up on the Kiwi boat, until
they were only a length back and putting disturbed air into Team New Zealand
sails. Alinghi goes particularly well on broad reach with a spinnaker and stay
sail up. This sail combination allowed Coutts to spring his roll maneuver just
like he did to the Oracle BWM team in the Louis Vuitton cup. Alinghi blew right
by the Team New Zealand boat halfway down the final leg and once Coutts is in
front, he does not tend to give up the lead. The result was an Alinghi victory
by 7 seconds to put them 2-0 up and decided the regatta.
Race # 3, we tried to
watch while we were on the road, from the beautiful town of Russell heading back
to Auckland. This race was finally cancelled due to lack of wind. We would stop
off at a road side pub every half an hour on the way back, to see if they had
started racing. If not, we would put some more miles on the clock heading back
to Auckland’s viaduct harbor.
My friend Grant Bremner flew
up from New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, to see the third race on the
Saturday. His wife is a big muckety muck with the New Zealand power company, so
they were guests aboard the HP smooze boat. These boats pay the organizers $
5,000 dollars and have the privileged of being 100 yards inside the spectator
fleet line, to get an even better view of the racing.
The HP boat was a gorgeous
cruiser and due to be shipped to the US at then end of the races, to be made
available for sale at the eye popping price of $10 million. Unfortunately for
Grant and his wife, the racing was cancelled that day due to no wind, but they
enjoyed the cruise around the bay.
Race 3 finally got
underway a few days later. The left side of the course looked favorable right up
until 2 minutes to go, when the Swiss weather team said go right. This
information and Butterworth’s uncanny ability to pick the first shift off the
line meant that the Alinghi after-guard went for the right side of the course.
Team New Zealand picked the left and the start was a split tack. The wind did
indeed shift to the right in a big way and that shift helped the Swiss to
convert that advantage into a big early lead, rounding the top mark with a 28
second lead. The Kiwi after-guard also got the right hand call from their
weather team just before the start, but decided to discount the information.
That turned out to be the difference as Alinghi held the lead all the way home
to win with a 23 second margin and go 3-0 up in the regatta.
Race Number 4 was
another disaster and saw Team New Zealand go out with a broken mast. The race
started off with both boats making a time on distance run to the start line and
Russell Coutts timed his run to perfection. Team New Zealand was a few seconds
late and trailed that same distance all the way up the first beat.
beat upwind saw both boats close and only separated by the starting mistake
distance, but trying to avoid being fully powered as they hit large waves
rolling down the course. The first of a pair of particularly large waves picked
Team NZ’s boat up and slammed the bow down into the face of the following
roller. The impact was the final straw that broke an overloaded spreader fitting
and their $ 700,000 mast came crashing down around the boat. Team New Zealand
were forced to withdraw, Alinghi just had to complete the course to go 4-0 up,
looking very reliable and undefeatable.
my opinion, this might have been a moment for Russell Coutts and the other Kiwi
defectors to think about their future welcome in New Zealand. If they were not
so ruthless, they could have stopped their boat, withdrawn from the race and let
Team New Zealand come out to race another day. By withdrawing at this moment,
they would have taken all the fizz out of the Kiwi “Loyal” campaign. Coutts and
the other Kiwi defectors would have been seen in a totally different light,
welcome back in the country any time they wanted. Instead, Coutts had to go out
again for race 5 with a minder on-board and rumors that he and Butterworth were
wearing bullet proof vests during the pre-race boat tow out from the Viaduct
Race 5 and the cup is up
for grabs. Coutts powered Alinghi down the line to cross at the gun to nail
another perfect start and was again ahead of Team NZ. From the outset, Alinghi
looked to point a little higher and was a little quicker, with a long drag race
to port on the first beat. More gear failure saw Team NZ breaking its spinnaker
pole approaching mark four, prudently the Kiwis had an extra pole on board.
Trailing by almost eight boat lengths rounding the final mark, Team NZ was just
too far behind to make a dent in Alinghi’s lead. Alinghi crossed the finish line
to take the 31st America’s Cup from Team New Zealand by 45 seconds and the
We had a great time one
afternoon, racing two of these incredible America’s Cup boats
against each other out on the Hauraki Gulf.
The three hour race enabled
us to experience what it was like to get these boats around the course, grinding
the sails and seeing how the various tactics won and lost the races.
We were also very privileged
to witness an amazing feat of sporting history as we watched these sailors
perform at the very top of their game.
Russell Coutts extended his
unbeaten record of 14 America’s Cup victories. He has won 14 races without a
loss, surpassing Dennis Conner for total victories and Charlie Barr for most
victories without a loss. His third consecutive Cup victory ties him with Harold
Vanderbilt and Charlie Barr in that category. While Coutts’ place in the history
books is assured, there are other members of his crew who have more consecutive
Brad Butterworth (tactician),
Murray Jones (traveller), Warwick Fleury (mainsheet), Simon Daubney (genoa trim)
and Dean Phipps all have 15 straight wins. They sailed the final race of Team
New Zealand’s highly successful 2000 defense when Coutts sat out to let Dean
Barker skipper the boat home in the final race against Prada.
A consolation for Team New
Zealand, is that in the three races that both boats finished, Alinghi only won
by an average of 25 seconds. This ranks as the closest average delta for a
series in cup history.
Brad Butterworth's summary of the differences between Team New Zealand and
Alinghi was the most apt: "Five-nil."
The time had come where we
could not stay on in New Zealand any longer and had to head on home to Dallas.
Eight years ago, in 1995, Team New Zealand became the second non-US syndicate to
win the trophy. Three years ago, at the start of the new millennium, Team New
Zealand made history by being the first non-US syndicate to successfully defend
the Cup. The cup award ceremony marked the end of an era in New Zealand and
hopefully all the urban regeneration benefits that the cup brought to the city
of Auckland’s Viaduct Harbor will now be self sustaining.
Thanks New Zealand for a
great time, see you on Lake Geneva for 2007…..
Back to Articles